A resource for creating your maintenance training program from the leaders in simulation training

Welcome back, Troubleshooters! Thanks for joining us again on Troubleshooting Thursdays. Last week we began talking about the importance of a maintenance training program and covered how to build your next (and more effective) maintenance training plan. We looked at the learning pyramid and the Cone of Experience, both of which show how the more experiential learning is, the better knowledge retention is.

Today in Part 2 of this series, we’re going to use this information to help you build a better maintenance training program.

As you are thinking about how to amp up your manufacturing maintenance training program, it’s important to remember that manufacturing and manufacturing maintenance training differs from training for other fields in a few ways.

First, manufacturing jobs are technical and hands-on work. Training for operating and maintaining complex equipment used in manufacturing needs to be active, hands-on and experiential rather than passive.

Second, manufacturing jobs can be very dangerous. As we’ve noted before, industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance jobs are among the top 25 most dangerous jobs in America. Large machines, live electric current, and high-speed production present very real dangers to workers, especially those who are new. So the difference between a well-designed maintenance training program that takes into account both better learning and safety for trainees and a poor program that just goes through the motions can literally be the difference between life and death.

Build a better maintenance training program

Keeping in mind that the goals for improved manufacturing training are better learning and knowledge retention to ensure safe and efficient operation of the plant, we’ve put together this list of important things to consider as you’re building your training plan.

1. Manufacturing training needs to be done quickly.

Due to the increasing shortage of skilled workers, manufacturers often have to bring in large numbers of new, untrained recruits and bring them up to speed fast. This means your training should be scalable – able to handle small or large numbers of students at a time. (This is where computer simulations come in handy. The number of trainees is only limited by the number of computers you have, as opposed to being limited by the number of available instructors, or to time on a physical simulator or machines on the factory floor.)

2. Manufacturing training can’t be done properly on the job.

There are a couple of problems with on-the-job manufacturing training. The first is the very real danger to inexperienced workers, as mentioned above.

The second is that, particularly in the case of maintenance professionals, when equipment fails and the production line goes down, every minute that production is stopped can cost tens of thousands of dollars in lost productivity. That means there is a lot of pressure on maintenance staff to get the problem fixed as soon as possible and they need to be ready to diagnose problems and make repairs quickly and efficiently. But what about rare problems? They cost just as much in lost production time when they occur, if not more. But they only come up once in a while, so if you are waiting for these rare events to happen while training on the job, it could take months or years before trainees can get experience repairing them.

So, these less common problems need to be recreated or simulated in the training environment, and then practiced so that maintenance professionals are ready when they do happen. That brings us to the next point…

3. Trainees need LOTS of practice.

Remember from the learning pyramid that hands-on, experiential learning methods are key to knowledge absorption and retention. Practice is right near the bottom of the pyramid so it is one of the best techniques for effective learning. Trainees need to be able to get as much practice as they can—over and over again—as needed. It makes them more efficient, and it keeps them safer.

(The Simutech Training System was created with this in mind. It allows students to practice as much as they need to, and the Admin Dashboard lets instructors track their progress and see who’s doing well, and who still needs more practice. STS is also a great tool for those who have finished the program to come back and do refresher courses as needed.)

4. There may only be a few hours a week for training.

Manufacturers often tell us that, realistically, they only have a few hours a week to set aside for staff training. If that is the case in your organization, your maintenance training program should allow for learning that takes place in smaller, individual chunks that can be completed at the learner’s own pace, or even on their own. Some computer simulation programs are constructed this way, i.e., in modules, and can be done either entirely without or with limited instructor supervision. Some can even be done on the trainee’s own computer at home. (If the program is gamified, they’ll have extra incentive to work on their own.) If the system is web-based, instructors can get feedback on how the student is doing. It’s a way of allowing for the most flexibility in scheduling worker training and practice. Some can be training while others are keeping the production line running, but the instructor doesn’t have to continually keep teaching lots of small classes. It’s a way of freeing up instructor/administrator time and making the whole process more scalable.

5. Teaching is the best way to learn.

As we saw last week, research is showing that the best way of learning is by teaching. Lots of times training is accomplished through the buddy system—where a more experienced worker mentors a newbie. Ironically, it may actually be the mentors that are getting the most out of the experience. As you’re developing your training plan, consider having workers who have just completed the maintenance training program teach aspects of it to an untrained worker. It will help cement the learning that they have just undergone.

Ultimately, everyone has a different learning style, so it’s best to provide learning materials in every category for a blend of buddy mentoring, simulation modules, and even traditional classroom methods near the top of the learning pyramid for those who can learn that way.

And that’s it for today, Troubleshooters! Join us next week on TST as we look at something we haven’t talked about before—training commitment letters: what they are, and why they’re important.

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